Spring 4: Super-Powered Innovators

In light of recent pop culture, I can’t help but compare our GMI cohort to a certain star-studded team.

“There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people to see if we could become something more, so when they needed us we could fight the battles that they never could.”

Ok, so maybe I’m no God of Thunder. And maybe the world’s healthcare needs aren’t quite as desperate as a purple mad titan threatening half the life in the universe. Nevertheless, over the past year I’ve joined with a team of talented individuals with the goal of preparing ourselves to meet some of the world’s biggest healthcare problems. We’ve overcome a few obstacles in our training, but the biggest challenges are yet to come. In contrast, hopefully we’ll be more successful than the Avengers were in their most movie.

My Projects: Where are they now?

PalliAssist is a communication platform that will improve palliative care at our partner hospital in Barretos, Brazil. When I received it at the beginning of the year, it was mostly functional with quite a few bugs. Throughout the year, I was able make some functional improvements to the platform (with plenty of help from its original creators and others), but more importantly took the steps needed to start a clinical trial and transfer primary ownership of the project to our partners in Barretos. Now, at the end of the year, PalliAssist has a dedicated project owner in Barretos overseeing its continued development, and a clinical feasibility study should begin within a month.

This project has taught me a lot about learning new skills. As mentioned is several other blog posts, I had never done any object-based programming before taking on PalliAssist, which was needed to make any changes to the platform. I learned how important it is to have the right people to support you when you don’t have the skillset you need. I saw how much I was able to accomplish in this new area, building my confidence for future challenging endeavors. And obviously, I broadened my programming skills!

The other main project I contributed to was Claroscope (formerly referred to as a teledermatology tool). Josh and Anna do a good job of describing this project in their blog posts if you would like some background. My role was leading the prototype design of the concepts Josh and I generated. This was a fun project that allowed me to stretch my more familiar mechanical engineering muscles. Our partners in Barretos are currently looking into purchasing the equipment needed to start production of our design, showing how close it is to being fully realized. It’s exciting to see the work of our team becoming a reality and potentially getting to help thousands of patients!

The biggest lesson I learned from this project was the impact of legacy decisions. In projects like this when you have a deadline, you don’t have time to fully assess every design option. Moreover, there may be a dependency between features where changing one would require changing several others. Early in the semester, the decision was made to use a certain battery. With that battery selected, we based circuit and casing designs on this battery’s specifications. However, near the end of the semester we found that this battery was likely far more robust than needed, and by switching to a smaller battery we could reduce the cost and size of the device. Unfortunately, because so much other work would be needed to make this design change, we were unable to incorporate it in the final design. While we obviously made the best decision we could have at the time, this experience gives me more motivation to make decisions right the first time early in the design process because I realize how difficult it may be to make changes later.

Lessons Learned in Global Health

As I may have previously described, I hope to contribute to global health as a part of my career. I don’t think it’s right that access to healthcare is as unevenly distributed as it is, so I want to be a part of making it more right. Coming into the GMI program, I had a general understanding of why our current economic structures haven’t been able to solve this problem and the types of healthcare needs present in other parts of the world, but I was still largely ignorant of many of the details.

One of the most valuable things I will be taking away from the GMI program is a better understanding of this problem and how people are trying to solve it. Through the GMI coursework, I’ve grown to better understand the American medtech industry, and by extension why it has not historically been able to sell to these lower-income markets. By living in Costa Rica for 10 weeks and working on projects for our Brazilian partners, I’ve experienced first-hand the types of challenges faced by healthcare providers in middle-income countries. Because of the Rice 360 Institute for Global Health, I’ve been able to learn from people who are doing incredible work with some of the most underserved people in the world. Lastly, I’ve been able to form a network of like-minded individuals who are passionate about solving the same problems.

Looking back on all that I’ve learned, one of my dad’s favorite quotes comes to mind: “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” I know that I am only beginning to scratch the surface of what it takes to make a meaningful difference to solving this problem, but I’m far more prepared now than I was a year ago. As the saying goes, the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.

What’s Next?

Starting in late May, I will begin my first job after GMI as………….… a director at Camp Peniel, a Christian youth camp I’ve worked at during previous summers! I’ve loved my time there in the past, and a last-minute need arose in this position. Between my desire to give back to this community that I have received much from and my desire to do something fun before starting work, I decided to push back full-time employment a couple months and take this job. As an added bonus I’ll be co-managing 75 people, which will be great experience if I attempt to move up into management roles at some point in my career.

As of this writing, I have not secured a full-time offer for after the summer. I’ve found that my later start date is a slight hinderance here, having had to stop interviewing a couple of times because of it, but it’s also just a competitive market right now. Based on advice I’ve received from people currently working in global health, it seems unlikely I will be able to find a job there right out of college. Instead, my goal is to find employment that will allow me to continue to develop my hard engineering skills so that I might be a valuable asset to a global health-focused organization in the future.

So I stand facing the next chapter of my life with a good amount of uncertainty of what will come next, and I’m thankful for it. If I had it my way I would have received a full-time offer by October, but the way things have turned out I’ve been forced to confront my inability to control certain aspects of my life. It’s an uncomfortable reality, but as a result of the confrontation, I’ve grown. I’ve been forced to reconsider what I really want and why, and then grown in my determination to work for it because I’ve seen the value in it. More importantly though, I’ve been forced to confront inconsistencies in my faith like if I really believe my creator knows what I need and is working all things for my good. As a result of this wrestling, I now walk into this uncertainty more fully believing that whatever comes will be far better than what I would have chosen for myself, however comfortable it would have been, because our creator has shown himself to be faithful. And that’s a lot to be thankful for.

So long GMI. You’ve been good to me.

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